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Win or lose, Peyton Manning expected to retire after Super Bowl

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, back, looks to throw to wide receiver Andre Caldwell, front, during a practice at the team’s headquarters Thursday in Englewood, Colo.
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, back, looks to throw to wide receiver Andre Caldwell, front, during a practice at the team’s headquarters Thursday in Englewood, Colo. AP

NEW ORLEANS

Sure as Brett Favre is a first-ballot selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is the runaway MVP of the 2015 NFL season, I believe we are seeing the final game of quarterback Peyton Manning's brilliant career on Super Bowl Sunday.

Win or lose Super Bowl 50, Manning won't play another down of professional football with the Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Rams or any other team.

One and done ... after 18 mostly bodacious seasons, four trips to the Super Bowl (two each with Denver and Indianapolis) and being the starting quarterback in 199 regular (186)- and postseason (13) victories.

An upset win against the touchdown-favored Panthers would make it an even 200 and break a tie with Favre for the winningest QB in league history. Unquestionably, a victory would seemingly make the decision to retire a great deal easier for the 14-time Pro Bowler and five-time league MVP.

He turns the big 4-OH on March 24, roughly two weeks after the NFL calendar turns from 2015 to 2016. And while Peyton's age won't be the determining factor in whether he calls it quits, his recent health issues in Indianapolis and Denver ultimately will come into play, both for the player and Broncos officials.

Football has taken a heavy toll on Manning. This season alone, plantar fasciitis limited him to nine starts, the only season in which he didn't start all 16 games since joining the NFL in 1998. A potentially career-ending neck injury also sidelined him the entire 2011 season in Indy.

He also apparently is facing hip-replacement surgery in the foreseeable future, according to reports.

Of all the Super Bowl minutiae that has surfaced the past few weeks, here's what I believe to be true:

-- Moments after Denver eliminated New England from the Super Bowl hunt and won the AFC Championship, Manning confided to Patriots coach Bill Belichick that this season likely is the player's "last rodeo.''

-- Manning's father, Archie, said he believed this will be his son's final game with the Broncos, win or lose, though Archie didn't dismiss the possibility that his son might play elsewhere in '16. Keep in mind, Peyton Manning is guaranteed his full $19 million base salary from the Broncos if on the roster March 9.

That won't happen, not based on Manning's age/health and with heir apparent Brock Osweiler waiting in the wings at considerably less money.

Manning has done a masterful job of answering -- and deftly sidestepping -- repeated inquiries by reporters this week as to whether or not Super Bowl 50 will be his final game. It's been his way of audibilizing behind a podium: "Omaha, Omaha ... set, hut!''

Wisely, Manning has not painted himself into a corner, saying only that he wants to enjoy and live in the moment and will address his career in the coming days and weeks.

I believe him.

I also believe Super Bowl 50 -- win or lose -- will be the final time under center for Peyton Williams Manning.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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